Book Review: PLAY IT AS IT LAYS, by Joan Didion

This is my first foray into the literature of Joan Didion since analyzing Slouching Toward Bethelehem to death in a college workshop. Finally, I've forgotten which essay structure Didion favors; I cannot remember if she lists in threes or fours; I do know that she's a master of the paragraph-long, excellently puncuated--and thus prevented from running on--sentence, but her preference for colons (or is it semi-colons?) has finally stepped right out of my memory, and so I feel restored, ready to brave Didion again and see if she's every bit as wonderful as she was before we dissected, imitated, cut and pasted her essays in English 451.

She is. Hooray.

PLAY IT AS IT LAYS is a dark and imaginative, deceptively simple (or is it deceptively complex?) novel about Maria Wyeth, actress, mother, estranged wife, and her descent into...Hmm. Is she crazy, or isn't she? You decide.

The book whips right by--it's actually quite thin, though my copy was plumped up with generous margins--in short, sharply beautiful chapters, and it's set in the Mojave desert, with 120-degree days that Didion describes in agonizing, sweat-provoking detail. Read it outside, on a sunny day, when there is a slight breeze. Bring a glass of ice water, and a portable fan, just in case.


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